Lyle Lovett on Still Not Exactly Being Mr. Showbiz

Lyle Lovett is Texas through and through, but he's got plenty of Denver connections.
Lyle Lovett is Texas through and through, but he's got plenty of Denver connections. Photo by Michael Wilson
Westword and Lyle Lovett, who headlines at Red Rocks on Tuesday, September 4, with support from Margo Price and his own Large Band, go back a long way. Our first profile of the iconoclastic singer-songwriter was published back in 1986, around the time of his debut album's release. And that's appropriate, because even though Lovett is among Texas's greatest exports, he has plenty of Denver connections, as he makes clear in this charming and highly entertaining interview.

Since our first chat, Lovett has won four Grammy awards and penned a slew of great tunes ("If I Had a Boat," "She's No Lady," "South Texas Girl" and so many more) that tend to be defined as country but frequently include elements of swing, folk, blues, roots and so many other styles that they're fundamentally uncategorizable. He's also dabbled in acting, racking up credits such as The Player, a 1992 Robert Altman movie where he met mega-star Julia Roberts, to whom he was briefly married, and The Bridge, an FX series in which he was cast because the creators behind the show wanted someone like Lyle Lovett and he happened to fit the bill.

Somehow, though, Lovett has remained the same idiosyncratic fellow who told us that he was "not exactly Mr. Showbiz" more than thirty years ago — and he believes the description still fits.

This anecdote kicks off a conversation in which Lovett remembers his first manager, longtime Denver promoter Chuck Morris, who accompanied him during his introduction to Red Rocks. From there, he talks about encounters with country-music greats who demonstrated what it's like to live without compromise, his casual compositional eclecticism, the way his songs spring to life (and the ones he chooses not to share), his love of vinyl in the digital age, the way he balances music and acting, his fondness for horses and an unusual equine sport, and a passion for photography he rediscovered when trying to navigate the complexities of social media.

He concludes by recalling an exchange with a member of the Red Rocks staff, who summed up what's great about the amphitheater in six hilarious words. Read them, and a few others, below.

click to enlarge Lyle Lovett as he looked on the cover of his 1986 self-titled debut album. - AMAZON.COM
Lyle Lovett as he looked on the cover of his 1986 self-titled debut album.
Westword: Many years ago, one of my former colleagues, Robin Chotzinoff, interviewed you, and in the article, you were described as being "not exactly Mr. Showbiz." Do you remember that?

Lyle Lovett: I do. I said that, and the record company took that quote and made it part of a promotional offering to radio. They had these EPs they called "Not Exactly Mr. Showbiz."

My manager at the time was Chuck Morris in Denver, and Mark Bliesener, who was also in Denver, did publicity for Chuck's company. I was introduced by Chuck to Bruce Hinton, who ran MCA Nashville for Jimmy Bowen. Jimmy was the head of MCA Nashville, but Bowen spent most of his time in the studio, producing records, and Bruce Hinton ran the business of the company. My first album was out. and my attorney at the time was Ken Levitan, who went on to start Vector Management and go on to great success as a manager. But back then, he was my attorney, and he's the one who negotiated my record deal and helped me with everything.

I didn't have a manager, even though my first record was on the charts, and Bruce called me into his office one day. I used to go up to the record company all the time, and that was something I really enjoyed. I kind of felt like I worked there. I'd go there to do press, and I knew everybody who worked in the office, in every department. Anyway, Bruce called me into his office and said, "You need to get a manager. We need somebody we can work with."

I said, "Okay, all right." And he said, "I've got the perfect guy for you: Chuck Morris in Denver." And he started telling me about Chuck and said, "We'll fly you out there to meet him." And they did. They flew me out to Denver and Chuck picked me up at the airport in his old Mercedes sedan and drove me out to his house, which was south of town. The last couple of miles were on a gravel road. And then he took me up to Red Rocks, where John Fogerty was playing. This was the summer of 1986, and John Fogerty was playing, and it was a co-bill with Bonnie Raitt. It was Bonnie's Nine Lives tour. He took me up there — it was my first time to ever go to Red Rocks — and we hung out and watched some of the show, watched Bonnie, watched some of Fogerty. And I thought, he's a nice guy, and Bruce Hinton wants me to have a manager, so, okay. And that was that.

It was great fortune. It wasn't really by my design, but all these years later, Chuck has been one of our best promoters. He's one of the best promoters in the business, and he has us to Red Rocks or Fiddler's Green every year. And in the off-season, when I do the singer-songwriter shows that I do, he'll bring us to Colorado Springs or Fort Collins. We do all of our shows in Colorado with Chuck and AEG. He's been so loyal and so good to me all these years. And I stay in touch with Mark Bliesener, too. They're just good friends from the early days.

It's been more than thirty years since Robin's article was published, and you've had a very impressive career since then, in music as well as acting. So is that line no longer accurate? Are you now Mr. Showbiz?

[Laughs.] You know, I don't think so. I've always been fortunate to work with people who've allowed me to be myself — to record the songs I wanted to record and play the songs I wanted to play. I've never felt like I've been in the mainstream of real show business. I just feel I've been able to do my own little deal and been able to get away with it somehow, because people have supported me. People in the business have supported me and people in the audience have supported me.

I'm just so aware, especially after all these years, about how much I owe to the audience, to the people who show up. It's remarkable to me, and I'm just so grateful.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts